Raising Hell in Licensing

ITV'S headquarters on London's South Bank has some of the most spectacular views in the city, and commercial brand director Gustavo Antonioni has one of the best. His high corner office gives him a broad s

April 6, 2018

9 Min Read

ITV'S headquarters on London's South Bank has some of the most spectacular views in the city, and commercial brand director Gustavo Antonioni has one of the best. His high corner office gives him a broad sweep across the River Thames and includes some of the most historic and modern buildings in the capital. i1_546.jpg

Perhaps the view has given him inspiration for his licensing and merchandising strategy for the newly renamed ITV Global Entertainment: to produce commercial brand extensions that engage emotionally with the millions of people who watch ITV shows. i2_257.jpg

And just like the panoramic view, the portfolio includes national heritage—"Coronation Street" and "Emmerdale" among them—as well as new properties such as game show "The Colour of Money" and "Numberjacks," one of its third-party representations.

"Our shows are on the air daily and therefore are part of the fabric of people's lives," Antonioni says. "So we have looked at the properties and asked what are we capitalizing on and what are we not capitalizing on?"

The outcome is that ITVGE is moving on from what Antonioni calls "commemorative" licensing to "the creation of cohesive stories and collections that we can go out to retail with and create product lift." In practical terms that means developing intelligent exploitation of its highly visible brands and a rebalancing of the focus on lifestyle. i3_152.jpg

It's a big ambition, and it comes at a difficult time for ITV, which—alongside other broadcasters—is suffering from audience fragmentation, declining advertising revenues and structural issues affecting U.K. terrestrial broadcasting. Redundancies are taking place across the business, there's been a pay freeze, productions have been cancelled, and there has even been speculation that ITV may be forced to sell flagship properties.


But the figures tell a different story. License! Global's annual Top 100 Licensors listing gave Granada Ventures, as ITVGE was previously called, a worldwide retail sales figure of licensed products of $81.7 million in 2006, which fell to $76 million for 2007 (both figures exclude home entertainment sales). The results for 2008 worldwide merchandising and licensing at retail was $150 million (excluding home entertainment), "double the previous year's $76 million value at retail," says Antonioni.


Antonioni is upbeat. "These results come from continuously challenging the team to think differently both in terms of creative executions and in reaching out to new partners and businesses that may have never thought of licensing before."

The commercial brands department, he says, is "poised for growth in the long-term plan" and is an important component of the broadcaster's policy going forward. Growth is to be achieved across digital, online, mobile, sponsorship and promotions, as well as through traditional product licensing. i6_61.jpg

"Brand building is critical," he says. "And with creativity comes new licensees and the development of new business areas."

The new strategy follows the reorganization of ITV's commercial business under the ITV Global Entertainment umbrella, which encompasses ITV Worldwide, Granada International and Granada Ventures. There are now three divisions in ITVGE, which are as follows: U.K. and international TV distribution, which is led by Tobi de Graaff, director of global TV distribution; home entertainment (called ITV DVD in the U.K.), led by Steve Gallant, director of home entertainment and digital; and merchandising and licensing, which is led by Antonioni, who joined the business last July. i7_48.jpgi7_t_23.jpg

Antonioni's background includes experience in the European and international retail markets, and for the past 10 years, he has held senior marketing positions at such entertainment companies as Sony Pictures, Time Warner, The Walt Disney Co. and Marvel Entertainment. Before joining ITV, he was consulting with Disney, Warner Bros. and U.K. television personalities on brand extensions and brand creation. i8_31.jpg

In the months since he joined the business, Antonioni has been leveraging his cross-industry experience to enable ITV Global Entertainment to provide "total value exploitation solutions for both in-house clients such as ITV producers, directors and talent alongside external clients such as licensees, promotional partners and retailers."

The result is a completely new product strategy and a restructured team that is creating concepts aimed at bringing television shows to life for viewers with sustainable, long-term collections of viable product. i9_30.jpgi9_t_14.jpg

The team has started to work with the shows' creators in order to understand completely the brand values and meanings from inside the shows, Antonioni says. The level of access his team has to the creative teams is, he comments, "unprecedented in the industry."

For "Emmerdale," it means that a number of creative concepts are under development based on the content and atmosphere of the series, including the new Emmerdale Garden Club. A long-term agreement with garden accessories licensee Tenax has been signed for launch at the beginning of 2010 for a broad set of products including gardening tools, kits and umbrellas. i10_19.jpg

For "Coronation Street," which is the U.K.'s No. 1 continuing drama and has a strong international following through its presence in 84 countries, concepts cover "vintage" programming; the iconic logo, tying in with the series' 50th anniversary in 2010; and plans being developed around individual characters.

The licensing program around the show is already gearing up with online and offline elements as it approaches its 50th birthday. A deal with Mindscape for Nintendo DS has already been signed and is part of creating a younger dimension around the brand, along with a family board game deal with RTL Games for Destination: Coronation Street.

And the latest deal exemplifies how the new values-led L&M strategy works. ITVGE has signed a five-year deal with J.W. Lees & Co for Coronation Street-branded draught and bottled ale, perfectly resonating with the Rover's Return pub as the center of action in the series.

ITVGE also is lining up a series of other FMCG partners to join what Antonioni describes as a "celebration for the nation," which will include live events and a retail component alongside regular licensing activity.

Envisioning how both the "Emmerdale" and "Coronation Street" soaps have the opportunity to move into new categories, Antonioni talks about "edgier and younger fashion," while Corrie's new "Out of Africa" feature-length DVD has thrown up the possibility of a cruise collection.

"Both shows are modern but with a strong heritage, and the concepts mean that we can take different storylines to different retailers," Antonioni says. He expects a balance of licensee-led and direct-to-retail deals. "We have mass market brands, which are often wholesale-led, but we want to become partners with retailers through exclusives or by letting a retailer have its own piece of a collection: an anchor category."

It has used this option with "Britannia High" and U.K. retailer Asda. Despite production of the second series of "Britannia High" being put on hold, the licensing program continues to roll out based on two original storyboard ideas. And, in examples of new business being created by lateral thinking about licensing, the U.K. holiday company First Choice is to run "Britannia High" mini discos for children on their holidays, and ITVGE also is in talks with a dance school.

Antonioni says: "There has been strong interest in the Britannia High brand, and licensees and retailers want to know when the second series is coming. We can't confirm that, but I don't think this is the end of the story." The first series is being re-shown on CITV in shorter 30-minute episodes from April to June and has been picked up in Australia, Latin America and in the Middle East.

From ITV's many other brands, the concentrated effort for licensing development include "Colour of Money" with Chris Tarrant and "Krypton Factor," the remake of "The Prisoner," which is being filmed in South Africa, plus key entertainment and format properties "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" "Dancing on Ice," "Come Dine With Me" and "Hell's Kitchen."

The work is beginning to come to fruition. For "Dancing on Ice," a new style guide is being finalized for a teen-focused licensing program for soft lines, including apparel and accessories, plus health and beauty. In November, games publisher Ghostlight signed for a "Dancing on Ice" game on Nintendo DS and Wii.

The licensing and merchandising team also is continuing its focus on third-party representation of children's properties Bella Sara online, "Pocoyó" shown on Five and "Numberjacks" on BBC.

While Antonioni believes that the business has been too concentrated on its children's properties in the past, he is adamant that ITVGE will be more creative in its product choices for what he describes as a "strong kids' portfolio."

Bella Sara is already building momentum. Italy's Giochi Preziosi has been named pan-European master toy licensee, Kidz Entertainment/EEMC is signed to represent the property in the Nordic and Eastern European countries, and Porchlight Entertainment has partnered with Hidden City Games for a television series.

Meanwhile, Pocoyó's licensing program is being relaunched this month with a retail exclusive in the U.K., and Numberjacks will be part of a summer-themed promotion at Sainsbury later in the year.

Antonioni is keen that the educational aspects of the children's properties come through in innovative product and online. And going forward, third-party representations are likely to continue on productions that also are connected with other ITV divisions—whether that's co-production, broadcast or TV sales.

Internationally, ITVGE has offices in Germany, Australia, the U.S., Hong Kong and Argentina. The U.S. has its own licensing team, while other territories use agents. Antonioni wants to take things slowly on the global front and get them right—in particular, understanding the potential for formats such as "Hell's Kitchen," "Come Dine With Me" and "Colour of Money."

"With broadcasters interested in our programming, it gives us the means to create a block consisting of a television show, a Web site and a licensing program," he says. Antonioni believes Hell's Kitchen has huge prospects—the U.S. version has sold to 188 countries, the U.K. version has sold to 45 countries, and it also is made locally in Spain and Israel.

For Antonioni, the restructured brands' business means there can be a concentrated effort on realizing the potential of its properties—even the morning lifestyle show "This Morning" is not immune from potential commercialization.

The ITV name, too, Antonioni believes, is part of the business assets. "The change of name means that we can now capitalize on the ITV brand with our properties in the U.K. and globally. I've created a team with the top talent in the industry. We are all serious players, and we are going to become a force in global licensing."

Now that is a solid, panoramic view.

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